Cities Should Nurture Natural Systems

Cities should invest more in expanding green spaces and nurturing natural systems - not just to keep residents healthy and tackle climate-change risks but to boost their economies.


City buildings with roofs covered in trees and shrubs.

After a landslide in 2017 killed 1,141 people and left more than 3,000 homeless in Sierra Leone's capital Freetown, the recovery plan included training residents to plant 21,000 native trees to reduce the risk of future disasters on bare hillsides, reports Reuters.


Amid erratic and unusually heavy rains, as well as urban expansion, the city's mayor has also introduced a "Freetown the Treetown" campaign to increase green cover 50 percent by the end of 2022, with locals tracking tree growth via a smartphone app.


In South Korea's Seoul, meanwhile, the city government worked with residents to restore the Cheonggyecheon Stream, a river covered by a highway overpass for decades. The nature revival project, carried out in the early 2000s, has lowered traffic, flooding and temperatures, stimulated nearly $2 billion in urban redevelopment and attracts 64,000 visitors a day.


Such examples suggest why cities worldwide should invest more in expanding green spaces and nurturing natural systems that provide water, food and clean air - not just to keep residents healthy and tackle climate-change risks but to boost their economies, researchers at the World Economic Forum say.


Akanksha Khatri, WEF's head of nature and biodiversity, said the conventional view that urban development and a healthy environment are at odds no longer holds.


"Nature can be the backbone of urban development," she said in a statement. "By recognising cities as living systems, we can support conditions for the health of people, planet and economy in urban areas."


Globally, spending $583 billion a year by 2030 on such solutions and projects that free up city land for nature could create more than 59 million jobs, including 21 million dedicated to restoring and protecting natural ecosystems, the report noted.


Nature-based solutions are on average 50 percent more cost-effective than man-made, concrete-heavy options such as roads, buildings and paved areas, it found.

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